The Ring: Pound for Pound
November 22, 2016
“Why do you look like you just went ten rounds with Holyfield?”
Wanda looked up from the granite island where she was helping Cooper crack eggs. Sam was sitting at the ridiculously huge kitchen table drinking coffee and eyeing Steve, who had just come in from a run. She had sensed the Captain return the night before, but it had been very late and his mind was a jumble of exhaustion and emotion so she had not bothered him. Without dipping past what he projected on the surface, she could tell he was more rested and settled, but still filled with concerns and responsibilities. Even though she had spent a great deal of time in Steve’s head, she still wasn’t certain how he lived with the guilt and duty that he put on himself. Barnes followed behind the Captain; his spirits were considerably higher.
“He shouldn’t,” Barnes snorted. “He didn’t do the heavy lifting.”
“Shut-” Steve glanced at the kids, one on either side of Wanda, listening intently while they worked on breakfast, “-the door, Bucky. No one asked you.”
“I’m telling anyhow,” Barnes said with a smirk, but he dropped the subject and closed the back door. He hooked his foot around a barstool and winked at Wanda. She rolled her eyes and pushed a bowl of cut fruit and berries toward him. Barnes didn’t seem any worse for having gone to meet with Tony Stark and the politicians. Steve had invited her to come as well, but Wanda had zero desire to rehash the Accords with anyone. She was grateful for the excuse to stay with Sam and watch the kids for Laura and Clint while they had alone time.
“So? How’d it go?” Sam poured a cup of coffee for Steve and waited patiently.
“Shouldn’t we wait for Clint?”
“Wait for me for what?” Clint entered with little Nathaniel on his hip and his hair sticking up in twelve different directions. He wore only low slung pajama pants, and Wanda was reminded harshly that not everyone on their team was young or impervious to serious wounds. Clint’s chest was criss-crossed with a series of scars, very old, as if from a whip. Two white, sharp slashes across his stomach were newer, and a faint pink line curled around his collarbone and down into his armpit. She knew his back was just as bad. A career as long and dangerous as Clint’s – no matter how good he was – inevitably lead to injury. Despite that, he looked like a man well-rested, relaxed, and showered with love. Yoho dusha zavershena. It was a good look on him.
“Daddy!” Lila squealed, then contained herself to an awkward side hug with her father. “I’m making bacon.”
“Smells awesome, jellybean.”
“Wanda and me are making pancakes,” Cooper inserted, not to be outdone by his sister. “She said we could have chocolate chips if we wanted.”
“Sounds amazing, double chips for me Coop.” Clint ruffled the boy’s hair and Cooper just grinned, his hands too messy to do anything else.
“Steve was just going to tell us how it went yesterday,” Sam tried to get things back on track. “Coffee?”
“All the coffee,” Clint confirmed. He reached into the refrigerator for a sippy cup. Laura had not yet made an appearance, so Wanda quickly reached out with her mind and found the woman still asleep upstairs. Clint plopped down on the bench next to Sam and diagonal from Steve. “So? I didn’t hear any explosions and you look like you have all your limbs.” He leaned around Steve, although it was completely unnecessary, to dramatically examine Barnes. “All that you left here with, anyway.”
“Dad!” The older children both admonished their father at the same time. Clint grinned unrepentantly.
“It’s okay, that’s how he knows I love him.” A smack to the back of his head made him flinch in surprise. “Ow! What the-” Natasha sauntered into the kitchen, seemingly from nowhere, and greeted the still sleepy toddler with a kiss before coming to hug the other children and steal fruit from Barnes. “Nat!” Clint exclaimed. “What was that for?”
“Setting a poor example,” she said, matter-of-fact.
“And so you hit me? Is that a better example?”
Natasha shrugged. “Instead I could withhold information. I had come prepared to describe the latest installment in our Captain’s epic romance.” Wanda could see the faint pink on the back of Steve’s neck and feel the corresponding fluctuation in his emotions. She shared a grin with Barnes. Whatever had happened, it was sure to be interesting.
“Mr. Rogers has a romance?” Lila’s face scrunched up. Sam, predictably, snorted.
“How’s the neighborhood?” He asked, as he always did. Wanda still wasn’t sure why it was funny.
Clint interjected, “Cut it out, man. We’re trying to teach them respect. Would you rather they called you Mr. Wilson or Egg-”
“I spoke with Tony,” Steve said loudly, derailing both the argument and Natasha’s threat. “We’re…we’re better. And President Ellis is going to sign a pardon for all of us.”
“Way to bury the lead,” Sam muttered.
“The Accords?” Clint reached for the sugar for his coffee. Nathaniel launched his sippy cup, but Wanda caught it before it could smack into the table. The toddler laughed in delight as she levitated it out of reach and set it down gently.
“Voided.” Steve let out a breath, and Wanda felt some of his tension ease. Her own mind grew a little lighter as well. With Tony’s forgiveness, without the Accords, they could return to America without worrying about their freedom. Maybe even to-
“It won’t be official, of course, until all the countries that signed meet in December. But the members of the UN Security Council are all on board and will be issuing statements of pardon for us. And the majority of the Accords countries have already withdrawn their support for the agreement. So technically, it is already worthless in those nations. Tony’s lawyers are looking through everything, but we should have preliminary documents sent over here sometime this afternoon. And Tony is working on some other stuff – really, really good stuff…He wants us back. Ms. Lewis, er…there’ll be a video call, maybe before Thanksgiving. And there are some things…we can meet after breakfast and I’ll go over the details with everyone. I’m sure Nat has more to say too, but…”
“It is done.”
The children paused for a moment in their breakfast preparation, and Wanda forced herself to focus on dropping butter on the griddle and checking the batter. Done. They could go home. Not home, home. That place, the place of her childhood and her family was gone. But she had begun to make a new home, a new family, when the Accords had ripped it all apart. To hear Steve and Nat agree that it might not be gone, that the people she had begun to trust, to cherish, might…home. A warmth stirred in her chest and she felt both nervous and comfortably full.
“So…” Steve started, cleared his throat, had a sip of coffee and then started again. “After breakfast? Let’s meet in the dining room and we can run through everything.”
Barnes snitched a strip of bacon off the first of several heaping plates Lila was carefully transferring to the table. She scolded at him with a smile. Sam topped everyone’s coffee, while Wanda supervised Coop pouring out and flipping pancakes. Nat made up a plate of fruit for her namesake and found a mug for tea. Upstairs, Laura was stirring. It was a good morning. The best morning that Wanda had had in a long, long time. Energy buzzed at her fingertips happily and skimmed across the house, touching on these people who had become her friends and more.
“I didn’t hear any fire trucks yesterday,” Sam said conversationally.
“So you got a number?” Clint added. Steve frowned, shoving his mouth full of bacon and scowling at his friends. The back of his neck had gone from pink to red.
* Yoho dusha zavershena: His soul is complete.